This morning we are going to talk about some hard things, about depression and suicide. We will start and end with hope though.
This is one of my favourite psalms, a psalm of reassurance and hope. Over the years, the promise in this psalm that I never have to feel alone, no matter where I might find myself, I can be confident that Jesus is right there with me. When I was younger, that thought sometimes scared me because that meant that Jesus was also there when I was doing something that I probably shouldn’t be doing, but Psalm 139 is not meant to scare us, but to give us confidence that no matter where life takes us, “You’ll never walk alone,” as the old song by Gerry and the Pacemakers sang a lot of years ago.
Growing up, I often felt lonely. I didn’t quite fit in at school or church and only found a place where I really fit in at Air Cadets and the Naval Reserve. I was frustrated with God and the church and so I dropped out of school at 17 and went to sea. I left family, church and God behind. I wasn’t trying to flee from God so much, it was more because of my loneliness and not feeling I really belonged, even in church. Today it might be considered depression. Depression is something both my mother and grandfather wrestled with also.
Then one night I was standing watch at the stern of the ship, responsible for making sure that if someone fell overboard, I would keep an eye on them while raising the alarm so they could be saved. It was a calm evening and the night sky was filled with stars while the Northern Lights danced and it was all being reflected off the ocean. The padre wandered back to where I was and began talking with me, we had had a few conversations in the past. Then he asked when I had last gone to church and I couldn’t remember, then he asked if I still believed in God. I told him I wasn’t sure, so he told me to look at the sky and ocean and tell him that that there is no God. He said he would stand my watch for me for 15 minutes while I looked and thought.
So, I stopped and looked and wondered at the amazing sight and realized that this couldn’t have happened by accident, that there is a God. I went back to the padre told him that I do believe there’s a God and then he told me that I only have 2 choices now, either seriously follow God or continue to ignore him, there is no other choice. It was the start of my journey back to Jesus. Some of the things that went through my head are reflected in this psalm. Jesus knows me, he knows my thoughts and my heart. He knew my loneliness and frustration; there was no place I could be, even on a ship on the North Atlantic, where he didn’t know where I was.
I’ve often wondered what was going on in King David’s life that he stops and writes this song of trust and praise because he knows that no matter what’s going on, he’s not alone, that God is with there. Was it when he was hiding in the caves, running from King Saul, or maybe when his son Absalom was rebelling against him and turning the people of Israel against him, or maybe it was during the time when Bathsheba was losing her baby and David was helpless to stop the baby’s death? David went through a lot of hard times, and I’ve wondered when reading many of his psalms, if he might not have suffered from times of depression through them. The psalm ends with David cursing those who are wicked and are talking against God. Even though David often messed up, he still trusts God and keeps coming back to God. In his times of deepest grief, David turns to God for his hope, for his strength. God never gives up on David, not even darkness or night, distance or anything else stops God from being there through the Holy Spirit.
In this psalm, David marvels out loud about who God is. God knows him! God knows his thoughts and his heart, all his habits and ways of doing things, knows how David’s first focus, even though he slips time and time again, is to follow God in complete trust. For the people of Israel like King David, knowing is not about head knowledge, it’s the kind of knowing that comes from being in a relationship. It’s like when you ask a guy about a new girl that he is dating. He knows that she’s pretty, that she has a nice laugh, and brown hair. He might know the colour of her eyes, but early on in their relationship, that might be all. He knows things about her, but doesn’t really know her yet, know what makes her cry, what hurt she might have experienced in the past, her dreams for the future, what fills her with hope, how she experiences love from someone, or her relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t know her heart and soul yet, and that takes a life time to learn, ask anyone who has been married for a while.
David knows that no matter what is going on, that God’s there with him. Even when David’s doing something that goes against what God wants, even then God is there to guide him and hold him fast. God was already with David when he was in his mother’s womb, forming him just as he formed Adam out of the dirt of the ground and Eve out of the side of Adam. Let that settle in a moment, you’ve been formed by God himself. Because of sin we get twisted in all kinds of ways, but Jesus came to us, became one of us, being in a womb just like us, to let us know that we don’t have to be afraid of ever being alone because he’s giving us the Holy Spirit to live right inside of us. God in us, meaning that Jesus knows us, knows our hearts, our loves, our fears, our disappointments, our anger and passions and even our depression and hopelessness. Jesus laughs with us and he weeps with us. Jesus brings heaven close, though we don’t completely experience it yet because the effects of sin are still here with us and in us.
This week, a mega church pastor in the US took his own life. Pastor Jarrid Wilson was respected deeply for helping those who struggled with mental health issues, those who wrestled with suicidal thoughts because of hopelessness, difficult backgrounds, bullying and the stress of being a young person and adult today. Pastor Jarrid kept pointing us to Jesus, reminding us that Jesus came to us, that God keeps coming after us because he cares so much for us. Because life can be hard, because so many people struggle with loneliness, with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, we’ve been given the church so that we have people around us who care about us with the love and presence of Jesus. Being a Christian does not make you immune to depression, hopelessness, and suicide.
When this psalm speaks of enemies, today David could easily talk about those feelings and thoughts that hurt us so deeply and tempt us to try to flee from life and family and friends and even God. Ed Stetzer writes, “There is a perception, and a deeply dangerous one at that, that teaches that once we've been born again or are walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the very real challenges of depression, of psychological struggle, of spiritual difficulty, of mental illness, cease. This is a lie. And when we believe this, we make dangerous assumptions.” Often, we don’t have the strength and ability to fight these battles on our own, we need to reach out when we’re struggling, whether a suicide hot-line, a school counselor, to a friend, a parent, pastor or elder who can walk with us and pour strength and hope back into us. As a church we need to be willing to talk about hard things, provide a safe place without judgement for people to honestly and transparently share what they are going through.
Jesus has made you; you are fearfully and wonderfully made and he invites you to come to him, he knows your thoughts, your heart and he is with you always; you are not alone! We are here with you as well! On Pastor Jarrid’s website, he posted this a few days before his death, “September is #SuicidePrevention month, and we want everyone to know that #YourLifeMatters!... We want everyone to know that God loves you, life matters, and you have a purpose in this world. Hope is here!” Jesus is always reaching out to you, he is here. So, my friends, be ready to be found out by the God who seeks and searches, and don't resist. Receive God with an open heart.